DIG: How does Gabriel’s word to Mary compare with what he said to Zechariah in Luke 1:13-17? How does Miryam, in Luke 1:34 and 38, respond differently than Zechariah did in Luke 1:12 and 18? What truths are emphasized about Jesus here? What expectations would naturally accompany the honor of giving birth to the Messiah? How did Elizabeth’s pregnancy encourage Mary?
REFLECT: What do you think it means to doubt and fear the Lord? When was the last time you were fearful but believing? How did He meet you in your fears? In what area of your life do you need to believe that nothing is impossible with God? What keeps you from believing this? What do you learn about faith from Miryam? Who are the women of faith that you consider your role models? Are any of them younger than you? Are any of them teenagers? What other words come to mind when you hear or speak the name Jesus? What moods or emotions bubble up to the surface? What hopes does He stir up in your spirit?
It seems most fitting that the Good News would have its beginning within the Sanctuary, and at the time of sacrifice. Six months had elapsed after the vision of Zachariah in the Temple. The scene now shifts from the Temple in Jerusalem to a town in Galilee, from the Forerunner to the Messiah, from the common priest to the common family of a young girl named Mary who lived in Nazareth. Mary, of course, is an Anglicized form of her actual Hebrew name, Miryam. The Greek text reflects that Hebrew name. It was translated from the Hebrew to the Greek, to the Latin Maria, and finally to the English Mary. The name she would have responded to was Miryam.
The highlands that form the central portion of Palestine are broken by the wide, rich plain of Jezreel, which severs Galilee from the rest of the Land. This was always the great battlefield of Isra’el. It appears shut in between two mountain walls. The mountains of Lower Galilee form the north wall, and in the middle of that range set in a slight depression overlooking the vast Jezreel Valley. It seemed to be one of God’s own sanctuaries. As in an amphitheater, fifteen hilltops rose around it, the highest being about five-hundred feet. On its lower slope nestled the little town of Nazareth, its narrow streets arranged like terraces.49
Miryam may be derived from the Hebrew word for bitter. Born and raised in the town of Nazareth, she was the child of an average family. She played on the streets, as the other children did, and she was subject to parental discipline. Joseph knew her, even though he was older than she was, probably around eighteen to twenty. All the houses in Nazareth were in the same neighborhood because it was a small town of roughly two hundred people. The biggest event that could occur in Nazareth was for a father to take his children to the nearby Greek city of Sepphoris to shop. The people were closely knit in their daily lives, and the women met in the morning at the village well.
The Jews of the first-century Palestine saw marriage as a joining of two families. And because the stakes were so high, they never would have entrusted such an important decision to the whims of teenage emotions. So the parents arranged the marriages of their sons and daughters. While the children were not given the final word in the matter, their personal desires were usually taken into account.50 When Mary reached her thirteenth birthday, usually around the time she reached puberty, it was permissible to ask for her hand in marriage. The proper form was followed: Yosef first asked his parents if he could marry her. He was a humble apprentice carpenter in the neighborhood, probably more than a year away from having his own shop. Young men were expected to begin adult responsibilities around the age of thirteen, so at his age he had likely already saved some money for his marriage.51
No doubt Joseph’s parents discussed the matter of marriage and, in time, paid a formal call on Miryam’s parents, as was the custom. The entire neighborhood knew in advance what negotiations were going on, and, from draped doorway to draped doorway, the women discussed it as they washed their clothes on the stones in front of their houses. Mary was not supposed to know of the matter, but of course she did, having made her wishes known to her mother and father.
The Jewish wedding ceremony was broken into four distinct stages, two of which can still be observed in the modern Jewish wedding. The parents normally engaged in their formal discussion. Once they agreed, the first stage called the shiddukhin, meaning the arrangement,took place. This would normally happen at a very young age, with hopes of joining two families for the common good. If they had some trouble making the proper match, families might enlist the services of a shadkhan or matchmaker, for the purpose of finding a future mate. When a successful match was made, it was necessary, as was the custom, to talk of a dowry, but Mary’s family had none. Their economic status was no better, no worse, than Joseph’s. As long as the man of the house remained in good health they would not starve, and Yosef was a healthy young carpenter.
As time passed, there would come a point when the couple was old enough to confirm their desire to be married. This is known as the erusin, or engagement. Our modern understanding of engagement does not fully capture its meaning for the people of the New Covenant times. Today, an engaged couple may break off their commitment with no legal ramifications, but a couple in first-century Judea were bound together with a much stronger agreement. To enter into this erusin period, the couple would have a public ceremony, under a huppah, or canopy, and sign a written contract called a ketubah. In this document, both parties would stipulate what they were agreeing to bring into this new household. After culminating this beautiful ceremony, the bride would prepare her dowry that she would bring into the marriage, while the groom would prepare the future home for the couple, often as a room addition on the father’s house (John 14:1-3).
When the ketubah was signed, the first cup of the ceremony was blessed, thus declaring publicly their sincere intentions. This is a formal one-year betrothal, and much more binding than any other. It was the finality of marriage. Once the marriage contract was negotiated, even though the marriage ceremony had not occurred, the groom–to-be could not rid himself of his betrothed except through divorce. Based upon the requirements for divorce in Deut 24:1-4, the couple would be obligated to obtain a Get or Sefer Keritut, Hebrew for bill of divorce, a procedure that is still followed in Orthodox Jewish law to this day. In other words, a couple who entered into the erusin stage were, in fact, considered completely married, although they were not living together yet. The erusin in Judea, also entitled the couple to lawful sexual relations, even though each of the parties was still living at home with their parents. However, in the country of Galilee, the people had renounced that privilege more than five hundred years before, and purity was maintained through the final marriage vows.
Still, if Joseph had died between the erusin and marriage, Mary would have been his legal widow. If, in the same period, another man had sex with her, Miryam would have been punished as an adulteress. The waiting time was spent, according to custom, for the groom to prepare a place for them to live. When the one-year erusin came to an end, the nisuin, or marriage, would take place.
Eventually the second stage would come, and it was known as the fetching of the bride. At that time the groom’s father would sound the shofar or the ram’s horn. The father determined when the fetching would occur (see Jw – The Parable of the Ten Virgins). Then the groom would fetch, or take his bride, and she would literally be carried (the meaning of the Hebrew root nasa, from where the word nisuin comes) back to his home, the place of the ceremony.
Then came the third stage, which was the marriage ceremony, and only a few were invited. This was preceded by a ritual immersion for cleansing. Once again, under the huppah or canopy, the couple would affirm their intention to enter the blessings of full marriage. This was done as the second cup of wine was blessed with the beautiful sheva b’rakhot, or seven blessings.
After this part of the nisuin ceremony, the family and guests would be invited to the fourth stage, or the marriage feast. They would celebrate their marriage with a joyous feast that would last for as long as seven days. Many others not invited to the ceremony were invited to the feast. After the marriage feast the newlyweds would live together at the place prepared by the groom.52
The similarity to the Jewish wedding ceremony is crucial to understanding the relationship of Jesus Christ to His bride, the Church (see my commentary on Revelation Fg – Blessed Are Those who are Invited to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb). Several times in both the TaNaKh and the New Covenant, parallels are drawn between marriage and the relationship between the believer and God. The love stories in both Hosea and the Song of Solomon point to that fact. Interestingly enough, both Jesus and Rabbi Sha’ul refer to marital terms such as the shiddukhin in Second Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 1:3-6, erusin in John 14:1-4, and nisuin in Second Thessalonians 4:13-18. To be sure, the details of the ceremony picture many exciting truths about how the LORD views followers of Yeshua, the Groom sent from the Father.
This is the context for the birth of Jesus. We are told that Mary was pledged to be married, meaning that the couple had entered into the second stage of the ceremony. Throughout the engagement, Miryam, of course, lived with her parents and accepted the daily chores set out for her. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee (Luke 1:26), to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.
Mary had not yet had sexual contact with a man, for Luke calls her a virgin, using a Greek term that allows for no subtle nuance of meaning. The virgin’s name was Miryam and she was probably about thirteen years old (Luke 1:27). Two times here she is called a virgin. It should be remembered that Luke was a doctor, and he gives the most detailed account of the virgin birth.
At a time about midway between engagement and formal marriage, Mary was alone one day and was visited by the angel Gabriel, who went to her and said: Greetings, you who are highly favored! Miryam is described as receiving grace, not as endowed with the power to give grace. She had not been chosen for this task because she possessed a particular holiness of life that deserved this privilege. The words of Gabriel suggest no special worthiness on Mary’s part.53 The Lord is with you (Luke 1:28). With those words, Miryam lost her reputation and her dreams. There was the very real possibility that she would have been ostracized from the Jewish community for the rest of her life. At least initially, she lost the trust of her husband-to-be. And what of her parents? Did they believe her preposterous story of miraculous nonsexual pregnancy? It is unlikely her family fell for such an outrageous tale. Mary’s decision to embrace God’s purposes unleashed an avalanche of difficulties and drew her into a disorienting mix of breathtaking privilege and unspeakable pain.54 We are reminded that a life of significance is most often preceded by a heart eager to surrender to the will of ADONAI regardless of the cost.
The Gospel writers attribute to her none of the special titles credited to her by the Roman Catholic Church. The worship of Mary is not called for by the simple greeting given by the angel recorded here. The “Ave Maria,” which is the daily prayer of millions and has no biblical basis. As much as we admire and honor the virgin Mary, we should not pray to her or worship her in any way. To do so is merely idolatry in another form. The mother of our Lord deserves all honor, but the Son deserves our worship.55
Miryam was thoroughly confused by his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be (Luke 1:29). Why would she, a little country girl, be blessed beyond all women? Did it mean she was about to die? Was she to be taken, perhaps, to a far-off place, never again to see her mother and her father . . . and Joseph?
Mary said nothing. She probably tried to look away, not only because of her terror but because it was considered bad manners in Judea for one to stare directly into the eyes of another, but her eyes were magnetized on Gabriel. She almost certainly stared, lowered her eyes, and stared again.
Gabriel’s announcement was the same as it was to Zechariah. His voice softened: Do not be afraid, Mary, he said,for you have found favor with God. As with John the Baptist, the naming was done by an angel. You will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, which is also an Anglicized form of His actual name. The name He would have responded to was Yeshua. The Hebrew name Yeshua was translated into Greek as Ieisous, then to Latin, and then to English as Jesus. His actual name was, Yeshua, a name that means to save, salvation or Savior (Luke 1:30-31). As Joseph would be told, the child was to have the name salvation because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21b). He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (Genesis 14:18-20). Even though groups like the Jesus Seminar discount the virgin birth, it is still one of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism and Christianity. In fact, to deny the deity of Christ is one of the easiest ways to recognize a cult.
ADONAI’s covenant with David promised three eternal things. First, it promised an eternal throne. The Lord, God Himself, will give Him the throne of His forefather David. This was promised for the Messiah to King David in Second Samuel 7:12-13. Secondly, it promised an eternal house, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. And thirdly, it promised an eternal kingdom, His Kingdom will never end (Luke 1:32-33). God made those same three promises to David: Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established forever (Second Samuel 7:16). Here is the fulfillment of the second of the two requirements in the TaNaKh: divine appointment. When Gabriel said: The Lord, God Himself, will give Him the throne of His forefather David, Jesus received divine appointment. He is the only One who fulfilled both conditions of the TaNaKh (see Ai – The Genealogies of Joseph and Mary). Since He, by virtue of His resurrection, now lives forever, He can have no ancestors.56
Jesus will reign on David’s throne forever and ever. This prophecy is fulfilled in Peter’s sermon in Acts on the day of Shavu’ot. He quoted Psalm 16 when he said: Therefore, my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay (Acts 2:26-27). Peter goes on to explain that even though David wrote that Psalm, he was not referring to himself because David’s tomb is still with us today. This was a prophecy by David about his greater Son, the Messiah, who would be resurrected to sit on the right hand of God the Father’s throne in heaven forever and ever (Acts 2:34).
Seemingly, Gabriel’s words did not calm Mary. Her mind was swirling. Vaguely, she understood that she was to be the mother of the King of kings, but who might this be and how could it occur when she was not even married? The emphasis here is on her virginity. “How will this be,” Miryam asked the angel, “since I am a virgin,” or literally, since I do not know a man (Luke 1:34)? Many Roman Catholic scholars have argued that the phrase expresses a vow of virginity, saying something to the effect of, “I have resolved not to know a man.” But it is impossible to see how the verse can have this meaning. No Jewish girl in her right mind would ever take a vow of perpetual virginity during her betrothed period.57 To have no children was a disgrace. There are no grounds for the doctrine of perpetual virginity in this verse. Mary simply meant that she was not yet married to Yosef her betrothed. Miryam did not doubt as Zechariah had, she merely wanted to know how the miracle would be accomplished.
Mary’s question was a good one. So it was Gabriel’s turn to be specific. He knew the Trinity would accomplish this miracle. So standing tall, he answered: The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High God will overshadow you, as the Shechinah glory had rested on the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The overshadowing of the Holy Spirit meant that Jesus was born without a sin nature, thus fulfilling the prophecies in the TaNaKh (Genesis 3:25; Isaiah 7:14). The overshadowing of the Ruach HaKodesh would bypass the sin nature of both Joseph and Mary. The union of a man and a woman can only produce a child with a sin nature. The miracle was not of Meshiach’s birth, because He was born like any other baby. The miracle was the conception.There will be two results: He will be holy and He will be God. So the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). It was during the betrothal period, between the vows and the home-taking, that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb.
Because of what is said here, a common misconception has arisen. There is a teaching that the necessity of the virgin birth was that this was the only possible way of keeping Yeshua from inheriting a sin-nature. The implication is that the sin-nature is only transmitted through the male. Since the Lord did not have a human father, He was sinless. But actually, the Bible doesn’t teach that. In fact, the Scriptures sometimes emphasize that the female side of it more than the male side. For example, in Psalm 51:5 David said: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. If God wanted to, He could have produced a sinless Son from a sinful male seed and sinful female egg. But ADONAI chose to have the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit be the means of conception. As a result, Yeshua would be holy, that is, sinless, and He would also be the Son of God, that is, deity.58
She probably understood the words, but they must have only added to her confusion. What the angel was saying, she reasoned, was something that the Jews had been waiting for centuries; a Messiah, a Savior, God come to earth as He had promised long ago. But this miracle would happen through her! It was hard to get her mind around it.
Gabriel could sense that Mary needed more assurance, so he said: Even Elizabeth your relative, the one who was called “the barren,” is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For with God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:36-37). ADONAI responded to Sarah in a similar manner when she laughed after hearing that she would bear a son in her old age. The LORD said to Abraham: Is anything to hard for God (see my commentary on Genesis Et – I Will Surely Return This Time Next Year and Sarah Your Wife Will Have a Son)?
There is nothing impossible with Ha’Shamayim when He has determined to do something, but He is not obligated to do the impossible when we ask Him. If He did anything we asked of Him then we become gods and He becomes our servant. Some things we might ask of Him are outside of His plan for our lives. Yes, nothing is impossible with God, but there is a great deal that is impossible with us.
Her eyes must have lowered to the dirt floor. She got it. But she also understood that Gabriel had told her about her old relative Elizabeth, who she had not seen in a long time. Her pregnancy would be an earthly seal of assurance to the angel’s heavenly words. She, a young virgin, was to be blessed by the Holy Spirit and she would bear a male child who would be God. It was hard for her to believe that the Lord had chosen her, of all women! But she had been taught to accept and obey the will of Elohim from childhood. Therefore, she humbly submitted to God’s plan. It was an honor too wonderful to describe, but as is often the case, obedience to ADONAI requires great sacrifice.
Common sense suggests that Miryam must have anticipated all these difficulties the moment the angel told her she would conceive a child. Her joy and amazement at learning that she would be the mother of the Redeemer might therefore have been tempered significantly at the horror of the scandal that awaited her. Still, knowing the cost and weighing it against the immense privilege of becoming the mother of the Meshiach, Miryam surrendered herself unconditionally.
In the simple faith of a child Mary presented herself to ADOANI. She was remarkably prepared for the job ahead of her. One wonders how she became so steeped in God’s Word, so bold in her faith, a girl who never owned or even held a copy of the Scriptures in her hands. Somehow Miryam didn’t let that stand in her way. Unaware of what was coming, she had been prepared for this daunting assignment since she was a little child soaking up the truth about ADONAI from what she heard in the Temple and from the lips of her parents and other faithful Israelites. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was arming herself for the battle of a lifetime.59
Obediently, Mary said: I am the servant of ADONAI. The word servant, or doule, can be translated bond-slave. The term refers to someone who voluntarily sells himself or herself into slavery. May it happen to me as you have said (Luke 1:38a CJB). She was His bondslave to do with as He saw fit, whatever came her way. Even death. Unfaithfulness during the formal betrothal period was punishable by stoning. She was not ignorant of that fact, and knew full well what her pregnancy would look like. Although she had remained totally and completely chaste, the world was bound to think otherwise. She could hardly have had a more godly response to the announcement of Yeshua’s birth. It demonstrated that she was a young woman of mature faith and one who worshiped the true and living God. Her great joy over the Lord’s plan for her would soon be very evident.60
As quickly as he had come, the angel vanished from her sight (Luke 1:38b). Her first impulse must have been to run and find her mother. She must tell someone! She must ask for counsel! Mary must convince her mother that she was not inventing this story! She vacillated from excitement to anguish. But the more she thought of it, she decided not to tell her mother. If the angel had wanted her mother to know, he probably would have come when her mother was at home, so that both of them could hear this message together (no one ever talks about Miryam’s parents. What would it have been like to have Jesus as your grandson?). But Gabriel had deliberately chosen a time when she was alone. Therefore, Mary must have concluded that it was the LORD’s desire that she keep the secret. Anyway, if anyone else knew the secret they would tell her mother, and thus she would know who God had selected and, therefore, to know of her honor.
Surely, Miryam must have concluded that Joseph would know. He was her intended husband. The angel would just have to tell Yosef. If he didn’t know, what would he think when she began to show. He would know the baby was not his. Oh yes, she was quite sure the angel would tell Joseph!61